Wayne “Radar” Riley has seen his fair share of good golf. The 59-year-old Australian spent nearly two decades competing on the European Tour, notching two wins along the way in the 1980s and early ’90s, as well as four other wins on the PGA Tour of Australasia.
In the years since his European Tour heyday, Riley has worked as a commentator and on-course reporter for British subscription sports channel Sky Sports, giving him a true insider’s perspective on modern-player performance. In an appearance on this week’s episode of Off Course with Claude Harmon, Harmon asked Riley why he thinks Australia has such an impressive history of churning out such talented golfers, and Riley didn’t hesitate in his response.
“Passion for the game,” he said emphatically. “Peter Thomson, really — Ossie Pickworth, Norman Von Nida was before Peter Thomson, but Peter Thomson to win five Open Championships, incredible. And then, we are so far away with great golf courses. If you’re a nation that, you go out and you play golf and you play on these golf courses that are average, you don’t sort of lick your chops, do you? But when you go and play anywhere in Australia, and you’ve got the chance to play on a fine golf course, you go, ‘wow, this is an unbelievable game.’
“To answer that question is very difficult, why. But we are a determined lot. We got sent over there as convicts. The Brits probably should have gone there themselves and left us in the UK,” Riley joked. “I don’t know why. But we are tough, we have to travel a long way. We just — any sport, we excel at. We excel at sport. We’ve gone off a little bit of late. Why, I don’t know. Whether that’s the modern age of computers and all that sort of thing. It’s a very difficult question to answer, why are we so good at golf, or why were we so good at golf.”
When Harmon pointed out Cameron Smith and Cam Davis as impressive young Aussies who are performing well on the PGA Tour, Riley agreed.
“We’ve got so many youngsters in Australia coming through. It’ll be interesting — we’ve always been able to judge ourselves and compare ourselves with the South African golfers coming through and the Australian golfers coming through, and I think right now, the South Africans are pipping us at the moment. We will be back, don’t worry. We will get another superstar, we’ll get another few superstars. Whether they’re already out here, I don’t know. But I think time will tell, but it will happen. We will get other superstars coming through in Australian golf and in world golf. And it won’t be long because we’ve had [Greg] Norman as a World No. 1 and Adam [Scott] as a World No. 1. We’re really waiting for another World No. 1 to come along, to give us a spurt.”